Generation 40s – 四十世代

Good articles for buddies


Leave a comment

Is China planning to take Taiwan by force in 2020?

CommentInsight & Opinion

Deng Yuwen believes Beijing is coming to the conclusion that if it is to achieve reunification with Taiwan, as Xi Jinping has pledged to do at the 19th party congress, it has to do so by force, and sooner rather than later

Does Beijing have a timetable for seizing control of Taiwan? This has been a hot topic for the media and among experts on cross-strait relations. I believe such a timetable exists. If the timeline was rather vague in the past, it has become clearer now. And the US security strategy that President Donald Trump recently unveiled will hasten the pace of Beijing’s plan to take back the island, probably in 2020.

President Xi Jinping’s report at the 19th Communist Party congress offers some clues. In the address, he identified “one country, two systems” and the reunification of the motherland as a fundamental strategy of a “new era” for China. This provides a clue to Beijing’s timeline for resolving the Taiwan problem.

According to the report, the new era refers to a period from now until the middle of this century. By 2050, China is to achieve the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and become a modern socialist power.

A list of 14 items describe this new era, and one of them involves reunification with Taiwan. This means Beijing must take control of Taiwan by 2050 at the latest.

Plainly, as long as Taiwan remains outside the Chinese fold, the “great rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation cannot happen.

No surprise, then, to hear Xi say that Beijing would never allow “any individual, any organisation, any political party, at any time or by any means, to split any single piece of the Chinese territory”.

Last month, a Chinese diplomat’s fighting words over the idea of the US sending navy ships to Taiwan were also revealing. Li Kexin, a minister at the Chinese embassy in Washington, warned that port-of-call exchanges between the US and Taiwan would not be tolerated.

“The day a US Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force,” he told mainland media.

While it is unlikely the PLA would really start a war over a US Navy visit to Taiwan, the words reflect a consistent belief of Chinese leaders: that Taiwan has to be taken back by force.

Since Xi came to power, the party has been open about its wish for the PLA to be battle-ready. No doubt the army’s first target would be Taiwan.

Also, Xi’s sense of calling would never allow him to tolerate Taiwan’s indefinite separation from the mainland. Whatever one may think of Xi, most people would agree that he is driven by a strong sense of national pride.

That is why, as soon as he came to power, he launched the “Chinese dream” campaign and set out the goal of achieving national rejuvenation. In the party congress address, he painted a picture of the new era that reflected his thinking and linguistic style.

As a leader who is bent on raising China’s global stature to a level that rivals the nation’s glory years in Han and Tang times, Xi would surely not tolerate an indefinite split between Taiwan and the mainland.

Nonetheless, the points raised so far only signal that Beijing has a timetable in mind to unify Taiwan with China, but they do not explain why the PLA could move to take Taiwan by force in 2020.

A combination of factors could point to a military confrontation.

They include Trump’s labelling of China as a strategic rival in his administration’s national security strategy; Beijing’s worry about the pro-independence movement in Taiwan and its belief that it now has the ability to resolve the Taiwan problem once and for all; a misjudgment by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen; and Xi’s sense of his own legacy.

First of all, why would Beijing opt for unification by force, rather than through the peaceful negotiation it has always championed? There are four reasons. First, after extending economic help to the island for years, Beijing has still failed to win the hearts and minds of its people. Instead, cross-strait relations have deteriorated.

Second, as one generation of Taiwanese replaces another, the “Chinese” identity among the people will only grow weaker.

Third, the influence of Taiwan’s political parties is waning. Even if the Kuomintang wins back power, it would not be in a position to lead cross-strait unification.

Fourth, more and more Chinese are calling for unification by force.

Thus, though on the surface Beijing has continued to call for a peaceful reunification, it has in fact ditched the idea.

As Beijing believes it has to use force to reunite with Taiwan, the next step would be to find a good time to do so. The year 2020 offers such an opportunity.

That’s the year when China would be approaching the first of its “two centenary” goals – the establishment of a xiaokang, or moderately prosperous, society by 2021, the 100th year of the founding of the Communist Party.

This would act as a driving force for China to take back Taiwan by force. If China becomes a well-off nation with Taiwan in its fold, it would mean a historic achievement for Xi.

Next, Trump’s national security strategy not only labels China and Russia as America’s “strategic rivals”, it also pledges to maintain strong ties with Taiwan. This will quicken Beijing’s plans to take back Taiwan by force.

In reality, China and the US are, of course, strategic rivals. But by stating it in its security strategy, the US indicates a shift in its long-term policy on China, letting it be known that it would seek to contain China rather than work with it. This would lead Beijing to conclude that it should resolve the Taiwan problem sooner rather than later.

Is the PLA ready for such a battle? In a recent interview, China analyst Ian Easton said he believed the Chinese military would not be ready for an attack in 2020 because of the slow pace of military reform. However, many Chinese analysts would not agree with that view.

At the 19th party congress last October, Xi pledged a major upgrade in mechanisation and the communications systems in the armed forces by 2020, which would greatly enhance the country’s strategic capabilities.

By 2035, he said, China would have completely modernised its defence forces; by the middle of the century, it would become a world-class military force.

The military has come a long way since reforms were launched four years ago. And fighting a war would be the best way to gauge its improvements.

In today’s China, more and more people are advocating the use of force to unify Taiwan with the mainland.

A series of military drills focused on Taiwan in recent days has also raised speculation that the mainland is preparing itself for a military invasion. It is likely that such “encirclement patrols” might become routine.

All is set for Beijing to unify with Taiwan by force, except for one thing – a pretext or a reason to take action. Emboldened by US support, the Taiwanese government that Tsai leads may well test China’s bottom line by further cementing its ties with America, such as with the proposed exchanges between US and Taiwanese navies.

Finally, whether Beijing decides to mobilise against Taiwan in 2020 will still depend on the decision of its leaders.

Xi may be tempted to secure the historic achievement of reunification as part of his legacy. Furthermore, if war breaks out, the peacetime systems and procedures will have to be set aside.

This will allow Xi to stay in power beyond his expected retirement in 2022, to give him more time to work on realising the Chinese dream of rejuvenation.

If Beijing takes up arms against Taiwan in 2020, there will be formidable changes for East Asia and the world. North Korea may also risk waging war on South Korea, if its nuclear capabilities are not eradicated earlier.

I do not want to see war breaking out. For this reason, we must pay more attention to what happens in 2020.

Deng Yuwen is a researcher at the Charhar Institute think tank. This article is translated from Chinese

Advertisements


Leave a comment

China is beating America on foreign policy: just compare Rex Tillerson and Wang Yi

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-12-20

Tom Plate says while China’s Wang Yi is confident and optimistic, Rex Tillerson appears to be on shaky ground, especially amid mixed messages from the White House. If America wants to keep its lead in global affairs, a clear statement of purpose is the first priority

If you’d like a snapshot of the current state of US diplomacy versus the state of Chinese diplomacy, simply compare how the two top diplomats of each country are doing.

Whereas the foreign minister of China looks well-suited, secure and competent, the American one looks shaky, even over his head.

Let’s start with the American secretary of state, Mr Rex Wayne Tillerson. Unaccustomed as I am to defending former US oil executives, still, in all decency, somebody might tender a nice word for the once CEO and chair of ExxonMobil. Though Secretary Tillerson is on the outs with his boss and may soon be flat out of office, he is not remotely the weakest appointment in the Donald Trump administration.

Tillerson had been well-touted by widely respected former defence secretary Robert Gates, as well as by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. The appointment took place in February. It has been a bumpy ride ever since.

Striking gold is never easy, whether in vital appointments or in the big-time oil business; but, in the field of international diplomacy, itself a slippery, oily place, Tillerson found himself on extremely unfamiliar turf. Not to be crude about it, but reports out of Washington say his days are numbered.

In all fairness, world politics is more complicated and inclusive than ever, so perhaps the job of chief US diplomat is not suited for mere mortals any more, no matter how germane the resume. The energy-industry careerist’s cosmopolitanism came from extensive foreign business travel, but international diplomacy is a more complex drill.

At the same time, his podium persona lacks that off-putting slickness that makes one question the trustworthiness: Tillerson speaks without giving you the feeling that maybe you are being lied to. He also comes across as an actual adult – a stand-out trait in the Trump administration.

Tillerson, even if he had the academic credentials and background of a Henry Kissinger, labours for a testy boss whose own weak grasp of international issues seems not to deter him from putting his hex on Rex. These mixed-message wobbles, especially on an issue as volatile as North Korea, are unnerving and can nudge the conduct of American foreign policy off-track.

On the Chinese side, career diplomats in China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that gigantic headquarters building in Beijing’s Chaoyang district, must be on a high. By contrast with their global competitor, Chinese foreign policy, as currently enunciated, seems relatively forward-looking and coherent; and when they compare Tillerson to their boss, Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, their morale must soar higher still.

Mr Wang is a career Chinese diplomat who is trilingual, in English and Japanese, and impresses his interlocutors for “always thinking strategically, never losing focus” (as one prominent former Asian prime minister tells us) and, as another source put it, gives off a confident air that his China “is on a par with, if not exceeding the US, in many ways”.

Foreign Minister Wang’s confidence was evident in a speech earlier this month in Beijing: “China has no intention to change or displace the United States [but] … ever more extensive cooperation and close exchanges at different levels have tied the two countries’ interests closely together. There is far more that they share than they disagree upon. Cooperation leads to win-win outcomes while confrontation can only result in a lose-lose situation. This is a plain truth that anyone with a strategic vision and sober mind will recognise. It is a trend that will not bend to the will of any individuals. Recognising this, China and the US need to find ways to better get along with each other.”

The well-crafted speech went on to declare: “Trying to reverse the trend of globalisation will be futile … Those who pursue protectionism will lock themselves in a dark room deprived of light and air … We will see light at the end of the tunnel as long as we keep moving forward.”

Wang was diplomatically indirect about some hot issues, but his meaning was unmistakable. “Some countries outside this region seem to feel uncomfortable with the calm waters in the South China Sea and are still looking for opportunities to stir up trouble. However, just as the high mountains cannot stop the river from flowing to the ocean, the positive trend in the South China Sea cannot be reversed.”

Not that further punctuation about China’s intent was necessary, but Wang chose to conclude this way: “Let me end by quoting from a poem, ‘With the rising tide and ­favourable wind, it is time to sail the ship and ride the waves’.”

The message to Washington, and the world, could not be plainer.

Whether the US response comes from Tillerson or from a new secretary of state, a thoughtful and well-articulated locution of vision is needed before the world starts to wonder if we still have it in us to match up against the talent in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Trump administration will certainly not achieve this by cutting the budget of the State Department, demeaning the great US foreign service, and trivialising its secretary of state. Whatever its faults and mistakes, China doesn’t do that.

The US appears to be in the midst of an immense self-demotion in foreign-policy intensity and vision. Contrast this with Wang’s optimism.

Professor Tom Plate, author of the recent Yo-Yo Diplomacy and the four-book Giants of Asia series, is Loyola Marymount University’s Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Affairs and vice-president of the Pacific Century Institute


Leave a comment

Another global financial crisis is imminent, and here are four reasons why

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-11-21
Niall Ferguson says that, based on the similarity between present conditions and those before the 2008 Great Recession, there is reason to believe another global slowdown is on the way

In June 2006, I observed that interest rate increases by the US Federal Reserve would sooner or later effect heavily indebted American households. In November 2006, I argued that the developed world might end up in the same mess as Japan since the 1990s, fending off deflation with monetary and fiscal expedients and stagnating.

Two months later, I found it “perfectly possible to imagine a liquidity crisis too big for the monetary authorities to handle alone … Governments would need to step in.” By autumn 2007, I argued that we confronted “a more toxic cocktail than many investors still want to believe”, and the crisis would be global.

In December 2007, I predicted a “great dying” of financial institutions as a “man-made disaster – the subprime mortgage crisis – works its way through the global financial system”. On August 7, 2008, I anticipated a “global tempest” that would swiftly make the term “credit crunch” an absurd understatement.

There is a lot about the present reminiscent of pre-crisis days. In all but a handful of housing markets, inflation-adjusted home prices are above where they were on the eve of the crisis. US home prices plunged a quarter between 2006 and 2012. They have recovered and added some on top. New York condos are 19 per cent above their pre-crisis high. And real estate isn’t the best performer of 2017.

On January 1, you would have done even better to invest in emerging market equities. Another winner for the year was the “Fang” tech companies: Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google shares are up between 30 per cent and 60 per cent. The best trade of all? Bitcoin, up by a factor of seven since the year began.

Now consider the reasons to be nervous. First, the monetary policy party is closing. The Fed and the Bank of England are raising rates. The combined assets of the big four central banks – the Fed, European Central Bank, Bank of Japan and Bank of England – peak in December 2018, but the expansion rate has already started to slow. Global credit growth in aggregate is slowing.

Second, we are at a demographic inflection point. Between now and 2100, China’s working-age population is projected to shrink from 1 billion to below 600 million. Many labour markets look tight, with unemployment rates and other measures of slack leading economists to expect a surge in wages and inflation. Countries that think immigration will help matters will be disappointed as many newcomers lack the skills to easily absorb into a modern workforce. The rising dependency ratio as populations age doesn’t translate into higher saving but higher consumption, especially on health care.

The end of the 35-year bond bull market is nigh. Bonds will sell off; long-term rates will rise. The question is whether inflation will increase as much or more. If not, then real interest rates will rise, with serious implications for highly indebted entities. The Bank for International Settlements has published “early-warning indicators for stress in domestic banking systems”. Two big economies with flashing red lights are China and Canada.

Point three: a networked world – whose biggest companies are dedicated to reducing the cost of everything from shopping to searching to social networking – is a structurally deflationary world.

According to the World Bank, a range of occupations – from food processors to finance professionals – have a 50 per cent or higher probability of being “computerised”, with technology entirely or largely replacing human workers. Already, Waymo’s driverless cars are on the streets of Phoenix, Arizona.

Workers clamp pieces of pipe while drilling an oil well near Fort Stockton, Texas, on May 4. According to the International Energy Agency, the United States is presently in the midst of the greatest increase in oil output in history. Photo: Reuters

Oh, and if you debtors pin your hopes for an inflation surprise on a new Middle Eastern [17] crisis, according to the International Energy Agency, America is halfway through the biggest expansion in oil output by any country in history thanks to shale oil drillers. Even without electric cars, we would avoid a serious oil shock if Iran and Saudi Arabia went to war tomorrow.

No two financial crises are the same. But there will be a next one and, as the monetary medication begins to be withdrawn, it draws nearer.

Niall Ferguson’s new book is The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power


Leave a comment

If American and Chinese youth believe in closer Sino-US ties under Trump, it’s time the experts did as well

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-11-21

Tom Plate says optimism among randomly sampled youth about the future of the China-US relationship, and the Donald Trump presidency, may well prove the power of positive thinking

Surprise! Few parents, perhaps ­including those in brand-adoring Asia, realise that Stanford University, on America’s sunny West Coast, is tougher for kids to get into than Princeton, Harvard or Yale. One star centre to which some of its best students – and faculty – gravitate is the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Centre (Aparc), in the heart of the campus. It focuses only on the Asia-Pacific, and no one does it better – whether Harvard or anyone else.

And so, given the fallout from President Donald Trump’s jaunt through Asia, and as I’d been previously invited by the research centre to hold forth on China-US relations, the moment to head up north from southern California had come.

True confession: put me in front of avid students, and I am the happiest clam in the harbour. During the session, one laser-sharp undergraduate, born in Vietnam, had a subtle China question that almost knocked me over. The first-year ­student inquired with indignation why I (allegedly) underrated her home country’s historic and heroic resilience to China’s aggression.

I managed to evade her total moral condemnation only by ­deploying Henry Kissinger’s famous quip about how one can do virtually anything successfully with the pragmatic Vietnamese – except invade them. She liked that.

At the end of the excellent 90 minutes, a brief opinion questionnaire I’d prepared was passed out to seminar attendees. Would relations deteriorate under Trump? Was war with China all but certain? And, if politicians on both sides of the Pacific could be kept from interfering in the bilateral relationship, would the American and Chinese people, even left to themselves, wind up with a better outcome?

I took their responses back to my university – Loyola Marymount (LMU) – and put the same triad of questions to my Asia class. Would there be significant differences of perspective? After all, the Stanford group weighed in much older – ­invited were faculty as well as other adult professionals from upscale Palo Alto, in addition to Stanford students; my Los Angeles sampling was comprised entirely of LMU students, aged 20 to 23.

Surprise again! There were hardly any significant differences. By a composite near landslide of 2-1, the vote was that relations with China would get better under the controversial Trump. Secondly, only 4 per cent felt war was all but certain. (Lopsided and inspirational.) And 78 per cent assessed that US-China relations would improve if only political figures on both sides would park their big egos elsewhere and leave everything to “the people”.

That seemed like genuine California dreaming to me, but what do I know? We so-called experts tend to get bogged down in the details of transpacific tensions [4] and differences – and they are serious ones. But it would be a happy notion ­indeed were the China-US relationship not so poisoned in American public opinion as to be beyond ­redemption – as suggested by these two campus groups informally and very unscientifically surveyed.

As for comparable mainland opinion, this is notoriously hard to gauge. Just as American polling establishments have been messing up – again and again their predictions miss the mark – scientifically solid opinion-taking in China is an even tougher pursuit.

Perhaps a touch more revealing, precisely because it is self-generated and random, are the views of the Chinese people in the heat of social media usage. While monitored by government censors, their social media is nonetheless so sprawling, robust and accessed that, at this point, it counts as virtually China’s “great wall” of self-reflection and revelation. (Westerners who think the Chinese people have utterly no thoughts of their own are very seriously misinformed.)

So a bright, bilingual mainland-born LMU student undertook a survey of Chinese social media opinion of post-trip Trump. Like my quickie polls, this was no rigorous social-science sampling. But it was an ­honest snapshot – and the results were similarly unexpected.

It turns out that the Chinese like what they see of Trump because he is so atypical. Social media users, discouraged from expressing blatant political views, tend to depict him as a TV star and “web celebrity”, with “funny facial expressions” and “using interesting words”.

Reports my researcher: “For these people, Trump is not a negative character for China. He seems really funny and he is nothing like other serious presidents. For them, that seems a big plus.”

Not everyone was positive, of course. Some worried that businessman Trump is one sly fox of a trade exploiter; some referred to the Chinese saying: “A weasel paying a New Year’s call to a chicken, with no good intentions.”

They view Trump as not stupid but worry that he will drag China into the complicated North Korea issue even more.

But, on the whole, the TV star image of Trump appears to be playing nicely in China, notably better than the dreary picture presented by the East Coast US news media.

What I learned last week was no more than a split-second snapshot of the moment, at the end of the day no more conclusive or predictive than is – say – the Dow Jones Industrial stock average at midday.

But for those of us who like to stay positive about the China-America relationship, a bit of sunshine cannot be so bad for our sense of balance. Professor Gi-Wook Shin, the Aparc director, lifted his eyebrows as high as mine over the apparent optimism, in north and south California. Positive thinking can generate a power all its own.

Columnist and professor Tom Plate, whose recent book on China is Yo-Yo Diplomacy, thanks LMU Asia Media staffers Deng Yuchan and Yi Ning Wong for their assistance


Leave a comment

Six reasons why Catalonia is no model for Taiwan’s independence movement

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-10-18
Cary Huang says a number of factors, but mainly that such a move is likely to lead to major retribution from Beijing and even war, make independence a non-starter. Besides, the global community has already made its position on ‘one China’ perfectly clear

It is no surprise that Taiwan has paid close attention to the recent referendum that took place, amid much controversy, in Catalonia.

But a bigger question is whether independence referendums by Catalans in Spain, as well as among Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan, can serve as an important object lesson for the island state, which is debating whether to take a similar approach.

Taiwanese Premier William Lai Ching-te’s recent comments on his commitment to independence further stoke such sentiments, and calls for Taiwan’s legislature to pass amendments legalising such an action are increasing.

However, the differences between the China-Taiwan issue and Spain-Catalonia are more significant than the similarities.

First, in Taiwan, there is not the sense of immediacy that has inspired Catalans to seek outright independence. Despite having just 20 remaining diplomatic allies, Taiwan enjoys de facto independence, similar to any sovereign state, with its own political system, government and army, plus the right to issue its own passport and currency. Catalonia, on the other hand, is officially one of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain.

Second, a referendum on Taiwanese statehood would not receive the same international support the Catalans have received, as a great majority of nations, including all major powers, recognise the one-China principle, though many Taiwanese might believe they have no less justification for their endeavour than the Catalans, the Kurds, the Scottish and the Quebecois under international law.

Third, Catalonia accounts for 20 per cent of Spain’s GDP, and many in the wealthy northeastern Spanish region are convinced they would be better off having full control over that wealth. The Taiwan economy, on the other hand, is heavily reliant on trade with the mainland and any political separation would be disastrous for the Taiwanese economy.

Fourth, it is hard to see how a declaration of independence would markedly improve the lives and welfare of Taiwanese, as it would not change Taiwan’s status on the international stage.

Fifth, a fundamental difference is that while both the Spanish and Catalan governments are democratic and their political values are almost identical, there is a huge gap in politics across the Taiwan Strait.

As a thriving free democracy in Asia, Taiwan maintains a model of self-determination, freedom and protection of human rights – the core principles of the United Nations – while mainland China, despite its rising economic clout, remains the world’s last major communist one-party state.

Thus, any attempt to advance the island’s independence would be met with wholesale repression, and possibly war, from Beijing. China has not only promised, but legislated for military action should Taiwan ever declare independence.

Finally, and most importantly, we should note that while the Spanish confrontation is between an armed central government and an unarmed local government, the China-Taiwan conflict would be between two major armies in Asia – a war between them would not only destroy regional peace but also undermine global stability.

Under the current situation, as it is unrealistic to hope that the two political adversaries can live in the same bed or permanently divorce, the best tactic to achieve peace is to maintain the “status quo” before any permanent solution is found.

Any Taiwanese effort to abandon this tactic will risk Beijing’s wrath and could make the US reassess its assistance, which is crucial for the island’s survival.

Cary Huang is a senior writer at the Post